Researchers, led by Dr Daniel Mullensiefen of Goldsmiths University, London seem to be compiling their results by "observing thousands of volunteers as they lent their voices to a long list of tunes". It is pretty difficult in these articles in the press to figure out exactly how the results were obtained, but I would speculate that the researchers have no traditional musical training and that the repertoire of songs was extremely arbitrary for some reason. Here is how the Daily Mail describes the research:
There is a somewhat more informative report here. Here is how they went about it:Queen's We Are The Champions has been voted the catchiest pop song of all time – by a team of academics.The scientists observed thousands of volunteers to find out why certain songs inspired unabashed wedding guests and clubbers to belt out their favourites in public.Singalong hits had four key elements, they concluded: long and detailed musical phrases, multiple pitch changes in a song’s ‘hook’, male vocalists and higher male voices making a noticeable vocal effort.
Top singalongs include Village People’s YMCA, Sum 41’s Fat Lip, Europe’s The Final Countdown and The Automatic’s Monster.Musical hits rely on ‘maths, science, engineering and technology’, said Dr Daniel Mullensiefen of Goldsmiths University, London.
Researchers solved the karaoke conundrum after observing thousands of volunteers as they lent their voices to a long list of tunes.
To summarize, a researcher visited an undisclosed number of night clubs (five? fifty?) in the north of England for an undisclosed amount of time and collected an undisclosed amount of data about the proportion of people singing along to an undisclosed number of songs. How was this proportion determined? Guesswork? Looks like about half the people here are singing along? Then a "musical analysis" was done of an undisclosed number of songs based on vocal performance and "structure". By the way, as a musician, I have absolutely no idea what could possibly be meant by this description of their "musical analysis". Then a statistical analysis was done (what kind? undisclosed) using a "small number of contextual variables". What were these? Type of alcohol being consumed, clothing worn? Undisclosed. Oh yes and the statistical analysis extended to a "larger" (undisclosed) number of "musical features". What kind of musical features? Undisclosed.
Sounds to me like his assistant Alisun went on a pub run and jotted down some songs and guessed-at proportion of sing-alongers. Then Dr. Müllensiefen, with his superior statistical and "maths" skills massaged this into something that vaguely resembles a scientific paper. The results are ... odd. Queen's "We Are the Champions" is a pretty good song and I guess you can sing along with it. The Village People's "YMCA" is even more infectious, but are people still singing along with it? In great numbers? Up there in Yorkshire? Well, ok. But the next ones? "Fat Lip" by Sum 41? Is it even possible to sing along with that? And "The Final Countdown" by Europe? Is anyone even still listening to this gone-to-seed anthem from the 80s? Maybe in Yorkshire...
Here, have a listen and decide for yourself:
My conclusions are that these researchers have no actual musical training (Dr. Müllensiefen obtained his doctorate in "the scientific study of music including acoustics, informatics, psychology, neuroscience etc." which in my view means, no, no actual musical training) and that they ended up with some oddly skewed results demonstrating little more than that many people in Yorkshire have appalling musical taste.
What is absolutely typical of this kind of exercise is that it, with no justification whatsoever, generalizes some very limited results to universal truths: "catchiest pop song of all time!" and does so with extremely questionable and mostly undisclosed methods. I guess it sells newspapers.
Now here is a catchy pop song: